By Allison McClintick
At 16, I began a love affair with the beatnik movement.
Inspired by the ghosts of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, my friends and I wandered unwashed around downtown Detroit with backpacks and Doc Martens. Nights filled with Henry Rollins, open mic poetry slams, exotic tea in dark, dirty coffee houses and Black & Tan’s in darker, dirtier bars than we should have been able to frequent.
I loved how the legends of angst could bring everyday life “home” to the seeker in all of us. Just recently, I read an article in Lion’s Roar magazine interviewing Gary Synder; poet and author (and possibly inspiration for Kerouac’s On the Road). He was asked about being a Westerner traveling in foreign lands — and the inherent challenges that posed. His simple answer on the topic was the following:
“As long as you speak the language and have good manners, you can go anywhere.”
Beside the obvious literal reference — I was struck by the profound meaning this statement can offer concerning both communication and connection.
Everyone is coming from somewhere.
Their experience and perspective could be similar or vastly different from yours or anywhere in between. However, if you really intend to connect with someone — you must understand who/what/where/they are. Assess their context. To effectively communicate you must be aware of and speak the language of their “world”.
As a coach who helps other build influence, I find that “people complaints” are often hot topics of discussion. Where as you might guess, problems with communication are a common offense. While most people understand they could improve this skill — more often than not — they reflexively point to other people as the culprit when signals get crossed.
What I have observed is that while we may believe that we are communicating clearly, we may not be “speaking the same language” as the individual. This includes failing to appreciate the context of their words and actions.
As an example, one of my clients is a project manager for a large construction firm — he’s a detail oriented, organized, efficient and forward thinking individual. He is also, however, a little rigid, micromanaging and reluctant to delegate. He is struggling with issues with a long-time contractor who is excellent at his job and close to retirement. Needless to say, the contractor functions on his own timeline (and this is usually met with great results).
However, in this case urgency was an issue for my client. And urgency wasn’t a language this contractor spoke. Pressing him for updates and detailed time-lines, only exacerbated the conflict. It didn’t compute with his own “context”.
To meet this issue, my client thoughtfully scaled back his requests and attempted to meet the contract “where he was”. Although the final results were not perfect, things did improve.
Try the following when you are challenged with differences in context:
- First, know where you are really coming from. If you don’t know yourself — you cannot listen non-judgmentally to others. Knowing yourself requires that you are aware of your triggers, passions, your biases and how you generally communicate. This is a TALL order. However, if you aren’t aware of all of the above, you’ll have a rougher road to travel. Pushing your own agenda rarely works, when you are struggling to find shared ground.
- Ask questions to determine what language they are speaking. The art of inquiry is priceless. Unfortunately, it occurs far less than necessary. I train and coach hundreds of people a year and when we examine how many questions they are really asking, everyone is stunned to learn that they really aren’t doing this enough. The only way to know what language someone speaks, what framework they use to make sense of data, is to explore it. The only way to explore? Ask questions.
- Pose questions based upon active listening. Active listening is anything but passive. When you are listening with intention, you should be working to really hear what someone is expressing. From there, the questions you ask should be aimed to capture their “language”(perspective) so you can find what you need to make things happen.
- Drop the ego. Ego isn’t welcome here. When you determine the language someone is speaking — you may find it isn’t yours. When this happens, your defenses could threaten to rear their ugly head and spoil the process. When we learn someone’s perspective, we might find that we don’t like or agree with it. Apply wisdom and do not judge. This means refraining from generalizing, accusing, assuming, shut-downs, tangents, “talking at”, writing off, marginalizing, projecting, scape-goating or attacking.
Connecting with people can be complex. However the way through can be simple. You must be willing to do the internal work.
If you’d like some help in this regard — look for me in my beret, clutching my weathered copy of Howl and smoking a Clove cigarette.
Live.Work.Think.Play shares observations concerning a wide array of topics from running a company — to the perfect fragrance. It is designed to share lessons learned from a variety of perspectives.
Allison McClintick is a seasoned coach & speaker — specializing in influence and consciousness development. She’s a Mom of 2 (20 years & 6 years), a ridiculously talented house painter, lover of quantum physics and is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology. To balance all that life, work and play — she’s attempting to “think” more effectively with practiced meditation. She’ll keep us updated.